American States Water

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2006-10-15 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Chesapeake Energy, Ruby Tuesday and others explain why they made the rankings.

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American States Water: Liquid Assets Headquarters: San Dimas, CA
2005 revenue: $236 million
2005 net income: $27 million

These days, the free flow of information is as critical to the success of American States Water as the free flow of water and electricity.

American States Water is the parent of two utility companies that provide water, electricity and waste-water management to more than 350,000 corporate, residential and military customers in California, Arizona, Maryland and Texas. Six years ago, the subsidiaries were flooded with hundreds of thousands of paper files, including decades of water quality test results and department of health services requirements—plus employee vacation requests.

"There's so much physical documentation for keeping track of water quality. Storage and retrieval are a big issue," says David Hefler, the 77-year-old utility's information-technology manager. Each of American States Water's 1,200 water wells is tested monthly or quarterly, depending on regulations, and the results of each test are printed on paper.

In the old days, those paper files were stored locally in filing drawers in one of 24 locations. That meant that when an auditor requested documents, such as five-year historical data for a Southern California well, an employee in a nearby location had to pull out each file from a document storage room and fax it to the auditors. It sometimes took a week to retrieve documents, according to Robert Silva, senior systems programmer at American States Water.

But since 2000, the San Dimas, Calif.-based utility has deployed and expanded a document-management system that has made the company more efficient internally. And that's part of the reason why American States Water has risen to No. 330 in this year's Baseline 500 ranking, from No. 458 two years ago.

Employees began by scanning and converting tens of thousands of water-quality documents into the Tag Image File Format, or TIFF, a standard format for storing data. The process took about six months. The files were uploaded to a content management system called ATI Filer developed by ATI, a Milpitas, Calif., company that converts paper, microfilm and other analog document types to electronic form. Last year, ImageSource, a software and consulting company that specializes in content management and systems integration, acquired the ATI Filer product line.

Each file is now labeled according to 12 indexes, such as location of well, date of water tests, type of document and who put it in the system. Now, when auditors request files to ensure that American States Water is in compliance with water quality regulations or lawyers are seeking documentation to refute claims of water contamination, an employee can search the ATI Filer system according to an indexed term, such as lead, or a date range. It takes employees seconds, instead of days or weeks, to retrieve the files, according to Hefler.

And American States Water has continued to improve the system. Each year, the company's staff of 12 technology workers has added one or two applications to manage documents for different business processes, such as Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, customer service, and requests for subsidized water and electricity for low-income residents.

In some areas, like water quality, Hefler says the document management system has made over the company. As he puts it: "The fact that more and more departments within the company are moving into document management solutions is a testimony to its effectiveness in saving time, man-hours and physical storage space." By Elizabeth Bennett



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